The Terrible Beauty

Halloween is done, thank God.  I am so over that holiday.  This year we carved exactly one pumpkin, and I let the real spiders decorate inside and out.

Actually, Halloween was over for me after fifth grade.  That year, near Houston where I grew up, a father was found guilty of killing his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide.  The next year I broke my foot, and that was that.

Maybe part of the reason I’m glad Halloween is over is because I really, really, really love All Saints Day.  It’s right up there with Christmas and Easter for me, only better, because there are fewer expectations.

But this year, in the middle of the service – after I had preached but before we began to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, after we had sung “For All the Saints” and named our beloved dead – in the middle of the service as the choir sang an extraordinary anthem, I thought to myself

This is a terrible thing to do to people.

The choir was singing “Entreat Me Not to Leave You” by Dan Forrest.  (You can listen to a different choir sing it here.)  I was thinking about all the people I have loved who have left me in death, and I did not have the literal opportunity to tell them not to go, not to die, not to succumb to the cancer or the internal injuries or old age.  I got so sad, and had to do that pastor thing of disengaging emotionally so I could stand up and do the next thing.

Celebrating All Saints is a terrible beauty.  Terrible in that all that pain and grief and rage is unleashed again.  Terrible that it’s done publicly.  Terrible that we don’t all stand up and stomp around and insist that God stop all the tragic deaths.

But then it’s so God-damned beautiful too. The golden shining of those souls.  The memories.  Naming the names.  Affirming the hope that they are not gone forever.  Not being alone in our grief.  Really beautiful music.  Holy communion.

The best analogy I can find is wiggling a loose tooth.  It hurts, but it’s a good hurt. Today I think All Saints is that way, the worship service at any rate.  It hurts, remembering those people who have gone from us.  But it’s a good hurt, because we had them for a while, and now we have each other, and that will do.

 

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My husband and daughter, years ago, at Yellowstone, walking toward a wide sky.

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Sometimes there are no words

angel weepingSometimes there are no words for the things that human beings do to each other.

Sometimes there are no words to express our horror, or our sadness, or our fear.

Because we humans are capable of being so very inhuman. We forget that we have minds that allow us to think before acting. We forget that we were created to love. We forget that we don’t have to go through this alone, but we have friends and strangers who will help us get through the rough spots.

At the end of his life, Jesus had very few words. “I thirst.” “Forgive them.” “It is finished.” But in those few words he spoke there was no hatred. There was no blame. There was no judgment. There was pain in his words, of course. He had been in physical agony as he died. His spirit was in agony, too, wondering if God had left him there.

But at his core, Jesus was love, and so even in the pain of his dying, love shone through.

At his core, was Jesus expressing his human side, or was he expressing the God part of him? Because if he was expressing his Godliness, then there is no expectation that we should show love whenever we are in pain. But if it was his humanity showing, if that was Jesus the man who loved even at the end, well then, we are not off the hook.

Sometimes there is only one word that will get us through this life, and that word is love.

Word Nerd at the Doctor’s Office

So I went to see my doctor (actually my nurse practitioner) yesterday because I’ve been having some stuff that might feel like arthritis and I’ve had a really, really, really sore throat.

I don’t wait long, the nurse calls me in, first stop the scale – yay! 40 pounds by their measure!

Onto the exam room. The nurse verifies my name and birthdate, and why I’m there. She asks me about my pain – where does it hurt? Well, I think to myself, it doesn’t really hurt. “Hurt” is not the right word to describe what I feel. “Ache” is a better word. My ankle and my knee and my hip ache. But she doesn’t ask how much it aches, she asks how much it hurts.

And then, because I’ve been having this internal conversation and have evidently been a little slow on the uptake, she shows me this handy “pain level” chart with smiley faces on it. Now I know they have to do this. I once served as a lay person on an Institutional Review Board, a group of medical and non-medical folks who review the protocols and consent forms for new drugs and devices and procedures. So I know that those things have to be written so that a person with an eighth-grade level education can understand it.

But smiley faces? Really?

I point to the smiley faces that is more of a wavy line that a curve and describe my pain as a 7.5.20130419-151237.jpg

But then I go inside my head again. My pain doesn’t look like a circle with two dots for eyes and a wavy line for a grimacing mouth. Then again, my pain does not look like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Nor does my pain feel like what St. Teresa20130419-151304.jpg felt as the cherubim stabbed her into ecstasy in Bernini’s sculpture at the lovely little Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Put that on your chart.

My pain is not absent as it would be in a lovely Fragonard painting; there is no peace in my body that mimics a classic Dutch landscape.20130419-151331.jpg

If the nurse had asked, “Which painting in the great repertoire of Western art most evokes the ache you feel in your ankle, knee, and hip?” I would have been happy to ponder that and answer. “Why, thank you, Nurse Shelly. My ache is best represented by Rembrandt’s self-portrait of 1669. He’s not wincing, but there are shadows around the eyes and a set-ness to the mouth that evoke some ongoing pain and sleep-interrupted nights.” And then Nurse Shelly and I might get into a conversation about the evolving nature of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. But we don’t. She notes in my chart that I pointed to the wavy-line mouth smiley face, then tells me the nurse practitioner will be right in.rembrandt self 1669

My only consolation in all of this is that my nurse practioner asked if the symptoms in my leg started at the same time as my sore throat because the two might be related, except she didn’t say “at the same time.” She used the word “concurrently.” I was so happy, and answered her right away, because my little brain did not need to imagine synonyms or paintings that would better describe it all.

Of course, they still don’t know what’s wrong with me….

ps: If you are my mother reading this, it’s probably just a virus and nothing serious, so please don’t worry